Central and Eastern European London Review, published on March 5, 2017
Article written by Anett Gecov
Márta Kucsora - Viscosity
February 11, 2017 to March 25, 2017
The Concept Space
The Budapest Times, published on 11 September, 2016
Article written by Evelin Pál
The Incremental, published on June 5, 2016
Interview by Michelle Tucker
Whitewall Magazine, published in the Summer 2015 issue
Article written by Laura van Straaten
When people think of cutting-edge art and design in Eastern Europe, they think: Berlin. But they’d do well to think of another B town, even further east. And that’s Berlin’s sister city of Budapest., a new capital of cool.
The Hungarian capital has quietly been developing into a compelling city for visual culture, even as Budapest is—like Berlin—still contending with its recent past. That past includes the Nazi and Soviet regimes, both of which still cast long shadows 15 years into this century not just in the papers and on the streets but also in the local art scene. The current right-leaning regime has been accused of cherry-picking cultural appointees, like museum directors, “loyal to the current government,” as one Budapest curator put it, and “as a consequence cultural institutions are losing their autonomous position.”
Addressing that very issue head-on, the inaugural OFF-Biennale Budapest is shunning government interference or support by offering a decentralized series of exhibitions and art events in and around the city. organized collaboratively by artists, curators, gallerists, and collectors (through May 31).
“The project intends to emphasize our conviction that culture is not the terrain of party-political battles and propaganda,” said a collective statement from the volunteer organizers. A key goal is to “offer an alternative to the network of government-funded art institutions” and “to encourage, support and celebrate an independent art scene.” OFF is partially funded by the Budapest-born billionaire George Soros’s progressive Open Society Foundations and pointedly does not use “government-run locations.”
More than 150 participating artists of all generations are showing work across all media in more than 130 venues, including art galleries, artists’ studios, vacant buildings, private apartments, bars, cafés, and public spaces. The curators hail from galleries, museums and fairs in the region and abroad.
Just ten minutes from the center of town, the Budapest Art Factory, a not-for-profit arts collective with permanent studio and exhibition space, can be visited by appointment. BAF, or “the Factory,” was founded in 2006. Its name pays homage to Andy Warhol’s Factory, but also to the more obvious fact that the collective’s home happens to be a nearly 10,000-square-foot former turbine engine factory.
Five painters of varying degrees of renown who all studied at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts, have permanent studios on site: Márta Kucsora, Dóra Juhász, Levente Herman, Eszter Csurka, and Sandor Szasz. (Herman and Szasz, the two men in the group, are more expressly concerned in their work with the political and social.) The collective invites guests “whose work we love, and who we want to work with us under one big roof,” said Kucsora, for one-month residencies that culminate in public talks and a one-night show of new work in BAF’s raw exhibition space. (This month, it’s the Parisian artist Pascal Dombis.)
During our visit, large-scale paintings of domestic scenes lined the walls from the recent guest resident, Swiss artist Andy Denzler. Denzler’s Berlin gallerist, Michael Schultz (which has represented German giants like Kiefer, Richter, and Baselitz) was so taken with BAF, says Kucsora, that this autumn the gallerist will mount a solo show of work by Szasz (opening October 10). And BAF’s resident artist for June, the Berlin painter Bernd Kirschner, is also on Schultz’s roster.
Situated in a classic Budapest building complete with interior courtyard, ACB Gallery is owned by Gábor Pados, who since the late 1980s has been one of Hungary’s biggest collectors of contemporary art.
Orsolya Hegedüs, who is artistic director along with Rona Kopeczky, gave a tour of work by the artist István Felsmann, whose “paintings” comprising Legos evoke Mondrian and Malevich. Hegedüs says that in addition to showcasing artists in their 40s and younger, the gallery aims to exhibit “artists who during Communism were working underground and not simply not supported.” Helping artists from the 1960s and ’70s in Hungary be known internationally is key, “because it helps to contextualize artists from 2000 on,” she says. But “to represent Hungarian art is tough because almost no one knows any Hungarian artists, or if they know them, they don’t know that they are Hungarian.”
On view at ACB and its tiny annex across the street is work by the esteemed artist Magda Csutak and the late Miklós Erdély, who was a central figure of the unofficial Hungarian neo-avant garde. The show is a 30th-anniversary reconstruction of a seminal 1985 exhibition drawing on the traditions of Judaism and Christianity that was mounted in Csutak’s Vienna apartment (June 17 through July 30).
Then, there is the Ludwig Museum’s Budapest outpost. It focuses on international contemporary art (as does its mother ship in Cologne and its sister institutions in Koblenz, St. Petersburg, and Beijing), but with an emphasis on Eastern and Central European art and Hungarian masters. (Two beautiful and extensive solo shows of work by the modern painters Simon Hantäi and his contemporary Judit Reigl were on view during my visit—and both artists are well represented in the Ludwig’s permanent collection.)
The Ludwig is one of the museums whose leadership is government appointed, and that (according to artists, curators, and gallerists I encountered) is now viewed with distrust and skepticism. “When the new director was appointed by the government, many at the Ludwig Museum left voluntarily as we didn’t want to be identified with this regime,” says Tijana Stepanovic, a former Ludwig curator. (She is now one of seven key curators for the OFF-Biennale.)
The museum’s founders, Peter and Irene Ludwig, who started their collection during the Cold War and hoped it might serve a mediating role between the East and West, would be pleased with this season’s exhibitions. In honor of the museum’s 25th anniversary a show includes 80 artworks from its permanent collection by more than 50 artists, almost all from Hungary (through December).
Opening June 4 is an exhibition organized by curator Viola Farkas of post-Stalinist Soviet-Russian art bought by the Ludwigs in the former Soviet Union (through September 6). A show of 150 photographs dating to the 1950s depicts the life and work of the Hungarian-born photographer and Academy Award–winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who worked with directors like Spielberg, Altman, and Boorman on films including Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Deer Hunter (through June 21). And looking finally to the West, as the Ludwigs themselves often did, is an exhibition of British and American Pop art, also culled from the museum’s collection (through January), right in line with Pop shows at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (through August 29) and the Tate (September 7 to January 24).
Finally, on a much smaller scale, there’s the Brooklyn-ish and category-defying Printa, which is all at once a gallery, a silkscreen studio, a popular café that sees its espresso and coffee-making as an art form in itself, and a “concept shop” with an emphasis on housewares, posters, and cool printed clothing (some crafted from recycled materials) mostly from local independent labels.
The gallery presents a new exhibit every two to three months of silkscreen based art. Typically on view are contemporary limited-edition serigraphs but also combined with other kinds of drawings, graphics, and cheeky work from upcoming Hungarian and regional artists. And if all the silkscreened goods for sale are inspiring, the silkscreen studio offer workshops for beginnings, as well as and studio rental for artists.. “All the elements of the space strengthen each other,” says owner Zita Majoros, a Serbian graphic artist and designer, who co-founded Printa in 2009 with a friend who is a curator and photographer. It sounds like a lot, but the place is coherent, inviting, and cool.
An article in The Atlantic, published while I was in Budapest, posited a “theory of cool” as a phenomenon that successfully subverts expectations, both societal and historical, by managing to be iconoclastic yet at the same time legitimate and bounded. In just that fashion, Budapest is eking out its elegant edge.
Cafebabel, published on September 22, 2014
Article written by Tullio Filippone, translated by Maria-Christina Doulami
The life of an artist and of creating today is very difficult, but in Budapest, it all has a different taste. Here, you are taken on a journey into the underground world of art and culture incubators. Juranyi, Muszi, Budapest Art Factory, Paloma are different places, all sparkling with a single notion: that unity is strength.
If you type the word Budapest into Google News, the results that would show up would inevitably allude to the political and social life of the Magyar country: the 'decisive' turn made by Viktor Orban’s nationalist government through the Constitutional reforms; the success of the far-right party Jobbik; the intensification of social tensions and trends of intolerance towards minorities in a country at a historic crossroads between ethnicities and cultures. Yet, at the point where the Danube divides Buda and Pest, it is not only politics that is being determined. A short stay here is able to alter the initial perspective of every young reporter chasing a story with his or her wealth of academic knowledge and (many) prejudices. Budapest is a cultural and artistic capital.
Walking through the elegant boulevards that breathe life into its Central European imperial grandeur, while listening to Franz Liszt or simply 'Budapest' by George Ezra, the feeling is that of being in front of a meeting point, a cultural and ethnic melting pot, a place capable of re-adapting the spaces and concepts of art to fit into a rapid modernity and an economic crisis that stings even on the Danube. To bring together the tools, ideas and artists, this is the answer in a world that often struggles to find its identity in modern society. The Budapest Art Factory, the Juranyi, the Muszi, Paloma, or even the Art Quarter and one of the first independent art centers such as the Trafò House of Contemporary Arts are very different places, but with a common denominator: they are incubators of art and culture. A few days are not enough to visit them all and talk to the artists, but you can sense their common motto: unity is strength.
A free and independent house of visual arts
It is a very hot morning in June, a prelude to a stifling continental summer. We find ourselves in a complex of industrial buildings of the thirteenth district on the Pest side. Here there are many activities, but among the industrial buildings and warehouse goods there is a place where you witness something other than an assembly line, an island where visual arts take shape according to the laws of creative freedom. The Budapest Art Factory is the permanent base of four Hungarian artists. Sandor Zsasz and Marta Kuksora welcome me into the building and guide me into what is at the same time an open studio, an exhibition space and simply a large house of contemporary art.
Marta, who finds inspiration in nature through evocative abstract images, tells of the birth of the factory, founded in 2006 by American Dianne C. Brown and underlines its independence: "we are funded by individual contributors, private foundations and ourselves." Despite the recent request to the Ministry of Culture for funds, Sandor also emphasises the freedom from political or institutional influence. "We decided to focus our attention mainly on international artists," says Marta. The Residency Programme welcomes the fact that foreign guests have access to a studio where they can channel all their inspiration and they can even live there.
Our conversation touches not only on painting techniques and activities of the factory, but ranges from society to politics. If Hungarian society is divided by social tensions, conflicts between the world of culture and political power, it serves to recall such resounding cases such as that of the former director Istvan Marta (interviewed by Cafébabel) or Ivan Fisher; Sandor (and he is not the only one) refuses to see them as part of a typical Hungarian trend, while emphasising how political conflicts are inevitable in the world of culture. A native of Transylvania, he recounts history and social conflicts in his work, with all the accompanying dramatic tension, trying to illustrate "emotions and memories" associated with his homeland and the past.
The performing arts incubator of Buda
We move across the river to Buda. Here, we are greeted by Danko, our Cicero of the Juranyi Art Incubator. In 2011, FUGE, an NGO, created the project that “helps independent artists with all administrative tasks.” A beautiful story that began in October 2012 and gradually grew by nurturing local artists. We venture through the labyrinthine corridors of the giant structure (6,500 square metres). At the top floor, the bright windows open onto a panoramic view that reveals the majesty of an imperial capital: on the one side, the old Buda Castle and on the other, the Danube with the giant Hungarian Parliament Building, that theatre of important and tragic incidents from the pages of European history.
Inside are all kinds of art installations, sets and even kitchens. On the floor, several colored lines indicate the path to reach various components that have found a home at Juranyi: dance and theatre companies, set designers, costume designers, painters, sculptors and photographers who can work in complete independence and synergy. The building even has its own space for art exhibitions and performances.
The FUGE, "an umbrella association", promotes local talent and has embraced a growing number of artists and companies. An exponential growth that would require an increase in funding, which, however, has not yet arrived. And here, an ambivalent relationship with the institutions is revealed: one extremely positive with the district and the municipality of Budapest, one more tense with the Ministry of Culture that would have denied additional funds. "There is a gap in our budget," admits Danko, while he explains the administrative difficulties of individual artists or collectives in finding the funding to go ahead and be independent.
The Paloma, however, emerges "out of nowhere" along the central Lajos Kossuth Avenue in an old shopping centre. Here, local artists have also found a home, in particular designers with their laboratories in what is presented as the union of a concept store, a space for events and an art gallery. Zsuzsi Kárpáti, founder and manager, explains how an independent project was born from the Hungarian Ministry but is not yet available to provide financial support to this kind of initiatives, while she confirms the tense climate that exists in this period between the government and the cultural world. Finding the funds has not been easy, but now the internal courtyards — that remained empty for about 15 years — host laboratories of pure creativity, art galleries and small shops.
MusZi, the house of young artists
On our journey into the underground art world, we could not ignore the Művelődési Szint or just plain Muszi. The house of young independent artists is located in the heart of the city within walking distance of Rákóczi út, a major artery that runs through the heart of Pest from the West to East between the 7th and 8th district. Only young people come out of the small door that seems blurred among fast food sellers. Once you reach the third floor, the building opens up to the patrons of a small bar and a stage surrounded by an eclectic décor reminiscent of the ruinpubs that made the underground scene of the city so famous. In this very large area (2800 square meters) are twenty art workshops, spaces reserved for the performing arts, and others for co-working and a greenhouse. Here we meet Lilla, a young amateur artist who inaugurated an exhibition, a mixture of poetry and visual art, with a friend. "It's not easy being an artist in Budapest, you have to have good contacts, especially true for amateurs," says the young woman, while she explains the difficulties that exist for those taking their first steps into the field. Both come from small towns in the Hungarian countryside and are enthusiastic about the Muszi, "a fantastic idea that connects people to art and offers the opportunity to independent artists to do what they want." And Budapest seems to have found its formula: unity is strength, or, as Dumas’ Musketeers said: "All for one and one for all".
Budapest-based artist Márta Kucsora has been exhibiting her paintings throughout Europe and overseas since 2006. At that time, she started to develop a unique, abstract imagery of (flow) painting which she depicts on canvases of significant size. Over the years, Marta has refined her own artistic vocabulary which emerged through her artworks.
Provoking traditional conventions of the profession, Kucsora renounced her brush to experiment with alternative techniques that became her personal artistic signature. We can objectively state that she is merging figuration and abstraction together. This unification entails a special focus on the technical part. Before all else, Kucsora decides on a subject matter and then, explores every aspect of it, from the technique to the materials she will involve in the creation process. Yet, her subject matters, inspired by nature’s components, are persistently reiterated into numerous variations of the same theme, just as though the artist sought a logical development where the technique has to emerge through careful study. In Marta’s words: “Nature is accidentally free and fluctuating, I want to freeze those moments on my canvas”. Consequently, she sprinkles, splatters, then moves the canvas around to guide the paint drips: it becomes challenging to distinguish Kucsora’s artistic style as she draws her inspiration from figurative components and turn them into abstract elements. Indeed, the technique reflects all aspect of an alert control over the composition that Kucsora takes with a mischievous pleasure. One might wonder whether through this repetition Kucsora searches complete absorption in the creation process or if she obstinately examines herself using art as a personal analysis.
Water was for long investigated. The Water series depicts water and its rhythm with a startling vitality which grows into a composition reminiscent of the Endangered Waters piece of Olafur Eliasson. Conversely, her series “Trans Silvanius” shows trees’ trunks following their cadence: the flow gives this feeling of emotional moves that take over the content in an excessive way. Once, Freud said in Totem and Taboo, “Nature delights in making use of the same forms in the most various biological connections: as it does, for instance, in the appearance of branch-like structures both in coral and in plants”. Undeniably, Kucsora persistently attempts to translate her emotions into a musical language: her artworks turn into a composition of natural elements fragmentally seized yet set free into an undistinguished setting.
Recently, Kucsora switched her techniques as well as her subject matter with her new series. The “Plantagram” series is reminiscent of photograms or rayograms used in early 20th century. Numerous artists such as Man Ray or László Moholy-Nagy, have experimented with this method. Influenced by the latter, Kucsora experiments with new and distinctive techniques. Constantly changing her artistic practices, the artist statement becomes undefined, if indeed there is one. So we ask, what does the artist try to demonstrate by doing so? The artist seems to be using forms of plants as substances that re-emerge within the canvas: as if another lifecycle was produced; however, this life form has no physical place in the real world even if it comes, indubitably, from it.
Consequently, Kucsora’s unique style makes her practically incomparable to any other artists. Nevertheless, her earlier series is somewhat reminiscent of Herbert Brandl: both question the conventions of traditional landscape paintings. Moreover, “Plantagram” can be fairly evocative of traditional Japanese woodblock floral prints.
Text written by: Julie Diebold
August 3, 2012-January 31, 2013
Cited as the most popular color worldwide, blue incites joy and sadness, wonder and nostalgia, vitality and illness, nature and science. While this spectrum of meaning and effect embraces broad polarities, longing and transformation consistently attend contemporary artistic use of blue as mood and hue. Brilliant blue pigment derived from lapis lazuli stones has been prized by artists since Medieval times; Renaissance painters reserved blue to denote divinity; and the blue fabrics featured in 18th and 19th century portraits signaled exalted social or political status. “A quest for the infinite” is how 20th-century French artist Yves Klein described his obsession with the color blue: in 1958 he patented International Klein Blue.
The transformation of everyday materials, experience, and imagery animates this contemporary exploration of the chromatic, sensory, and psychological effects of blue as color and concept. Blue horizons illuminate utopian visions of nature and art in paintings by Hubert Noi Johannesson and Marta Kucsora; blue skies suffuse the dream-like visions in photographs and videos by Pra Pano Manga, Denise Grunstein, Dinh Q Le, Mark Fox, and Alain Declerq; blue is the hue or mood of obsession in works by Elmgreen and Dragset, Slater Bradley, Graham Dolphin, and others; and blue lends existential resonance to meditations on family, adolescence, and aging by Gaela Erwin, Anders Krisar, Pierre Gonnord, Trine Sondergaard, and Alessandra Sanguinetti. Patricia Piccinini’s wall sculpture alludes at once to the evolution of nature and 21st-century technology and the abiding longing to reach new, farther shores: Mare Cognitum—“the sea which has become known”—is the name given by scientists to a lunar sea bed.
“The weight of the world is love,” repeat the three graces featured in Ragnar Kjartansson’s six-hour video, Song. Filmed in Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art, the neo-classical setting aligns Kjartansson’s contemporary reverie with the ancient Greek ideal of beauty and truth. Here, truth emerges from endurance and idealization, offering a transformative immersion into the blue.